AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson: "Selling CNN Makes No Sense"

Randall Stephenson speaks onstage during Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Getty-H 2017
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

The mega-merger seems to now be up in the air.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, speaking at the New York Times Dealbook conference on Thursday afternoon, said it would make no sense for him to sell CNN as a condition of getting his company's takeover of Time Warner approved. He also reiterated his comments from Wednesday, when he said that he never offered to sell the news network.

Multiple outlets reported Wednesday that government regulators have asked AT&T to sell off a major asset — some said DirecTV, some said Turner Broadcasting System division CNN — as a condition for approval.

"Irrespective of what you read yesterday, I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done is CNN," Stephenson said. "Period. And, likewise, I have never offered to sell CNN." 

The exec also said that "from an antitrust perspective, it’s illogical for me to think this deal doesn’t get approved."

Stephenson said that he was "a little bit disturbed" by the leaks, and said he's unsure who within the Department of Justice told reporters that he offered to sell CNN in a meeting on Monday with DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim. (Stephenson said the meeting was a productive one, and provided a good opportunity for him to get to know Delrahim.)

Later in the conversation, Stephenson said, "To have anybody thinking that we're going to dump this asset to get the deal done is harmful." He said that the stories on Wednesday were a product of the "juiciness and sexiness around this" deal and the media assets involved.

CNN, the exec said, is an integral part of the content stream that will be paired with AT&T's distribution capabilities to create a new advertising capability for the merged company. Hence, selling off CNN would hurt that potential proposition. He mentioned, though, that he's gotten other calls about selling CNN.

Stephenson said that AT&T is "at advanced stages of negotiations" with the DOJ on the deal, which was agreed to about a year ago. But, he added, the company has been working on a litigation strategy and a litigation plan if it comes to it. "We're prepared to litigate now," he said.